In 1964, the Vietnam War galvanized students at the University of California, Berkeley to take to the streets and uphold civil liberties through the Freedom of Speech Movement. This wave of student activism heralds a departure away from previous activism trends: the youth would be at the forefront of change and, in turn, would act as society’s conscience in the coming decades.
Since then, history depicts how younger generations have taken matters into their own hands to protect and advocate for human rights: Tiananmen Square, a student led pro-democracy protests in 1989 Beijing and the Velvet Revolution in Prague after the fall of the Berlin Wall. Today, nearly 60 years later, the same empowerment remains with the Black Lives Matter movement.
I commend my peers for using their voices to fight for equality and justice. That said, progress also invites extreme points of views. With social media as a mechanism to bring change, a new trend has also risen: cancel culture.
Cancel culture is defined as withdrawing support from individuals who share differing political views online, and often publicly shaming them. While progress requires activists to engage in robust debates, defend their arguments, and challenge the opposing side, to “cancel” someone who holds a different set of opinions goes against the entire purpose of implementing change. Arguably, it suggests that the other party is wrong solely for having different views. Even if they lack a certain degree of understanding, society should not just “cancel” someone, but rather find ways to educate each other and strive for improvement.
In regards to the Black Lives Matter movement, society has outlined the correct way to be an ally and to advocate for racial equality. One side of the spectrum (a minority) has taken it upon themselves to deem what is right and wrong, which, simply put, is controlling the narrative. The same can be said about a number of political topics including gender, sexuality, and religion.
In the last few months, I’ve observed social media participants “slapping the wrists” of users who share their thoughts and opinions because it does not fit into the definition they believe to be correct. I myself have received a frenzy of messages and comments labelling me as “uneducated” or stating that “I’m not being an ally”.
I have been “cancelled”.
I recognize that my opinions are, indeed, different; I challenge others’ arguments, and I am eager to continue learning about topics that I am passionate about like BLM.
That being said, cancel culture encourages a toxic internet environment, where the status quo is welcomed and any off center opinions are frowned upon. In doing so, individuals, myself included, are wary of sharing political views and, often, choose not to.
Ousting a person without providing a framework for further education or publicly shaming differing opinions will not move society in the direction of progress. Instead, it polarises communities and encourages people to focus more on determining a person’s character. Cancel culture does not offer ways to combat inequality.
Change, in any society, comes from addressing the issues, educating both sides, and, most importantly, listening. I’m not saying that activists as a whole are not upholding such values. Rather, I’m challenging the minority of individuals who engage and support cancel culture.
Publicly shunning someone is hypocritical, not progressive. It is easy to make comments through social media platforms when you are communicating through keyboards and screens. But to play the long game, progress must come from our collective efforts to understand, listen, and learn so that society can achieve its goals.